Friday, February 4, 2011

What’s worse, Lake Shore Drive or death?

There are some people who are going to remember this week’s heavy snowfall as the storm that shut down Lake Shore Drive.

Already, there are those who are moaning and complaining about the city’s handling of the situation – claiming that somehow it is the fault of municipal government that hundreds of automobiles became stuck in the snow, and people had to be rescued from their abandoned vehicles.

ONE GROUP, THE Illinois Policy Institute, went so far Thursday as to release an analysis of the city’s handling of this snowstorm – which at just over 20 inches of the fluffy, then slushy, stuff is considered the third-heaviest snowfall ever in recorded Chicago history.

That analysis gave the city an overall grade of “B” for the efforts to keep streets clean and help people in need. Yet a sub-grade of “F” was given to the city for anything related to Lake Shore Drive.

Now I’m sure the people who actually got stuck, and who are now desperately trying to figure out where the city towed their cars to in order to clear the road for traffic on Thursday, feel like it was a traumatic ordeal.

It will be the basis of the stories they tell the rest of their lives, usually to show how tough and industrious they truly are.

BUT WHILE MORE than 130 firefighters, about 100 police officers and 30 medics on snowmobiles were sent to Lake Shore Drive to help the hundreds of motorists – some of whom were stuck in their cars for up to 12 hours, to me, the Chicago Sun-Times nailed the essence of the Lake Shore Drive situation with the final sentence of a story they published about the situation.

“City officials reported no serious injuries,” the newspaper wrote.

Lake Shore Drive was nowhere near this pristine earlier this week when hundreds of cars got stranded in heavy snowfall. Perhaps that could inspire a new song to be written about the reknowned street that is much of Chicago's far eastern edge.

It is kind of hard for me to take seriously that the worst part of the city’s handling of this week’s snowstorm of historic proportions was Lake Shore Drive when there isn’t anyone lingering in a hospital as a result, or (worse yet) lying at the Cook County medical examiner’s offices.

And yes, there are deaths being attributed to the winter weather. People did die, just not on Lake Shore Drive. As for how many, it depends how extensively one wants to count. The Chicago Tribune reported Thursday there were 12. But they were counting deaths in Cook, DuPage and Lake counties.

AS THOUGH KANE, McHenry and Will counties, along with Lake and Porter counties in Indiana (which also are part of the Chicago area) don’t count. For what it’s worth, the Times of Northwest Indiana newspaper reported at least three weather-related deaths in the Indiana portion of the Chicago area.

Then again, I suppose rooting out details of those deaths (which actually aren’t that many considering this is a metropolitan area of 8 million-plus individuals) would be too complex. Easier to focus attention on Lake Shore Drive (or the fact that Wrigley Field sustained some damage from the storm) for those who feel compelled to complain about something.

Perhaps part of the reason I’m having trouble taking the Lake Shore Drive situation as being a crisis is that I have to seriously wonder about anyone who was silly enough to be trying to drive on that particular street on Tuesday night at the height of the storm.

I’m not about to go as far as the conservative ideologues who like to preach about personal responsibility who would say it’s their own fault for being out there. But there does reach a point when I have to wonder about someone who thinks they can ignore the weather – because such hostile conditions don’t apply to them.

IF I HAD been in an area of the city where Lake Shore Drive was nearby and an option, I likely would have tried to figure out ANY other possible route to use instead. Personally, I was thankful for a last-minute change in my own schedule Tuesday that likely kept me from becoming stuck on Interstate 80/94.

Which is why I got a kick out of the answer Richard M. Daley (who still has three more months on the job before he goes into electoral retirement) gave when asked about Lake Shore Drive, which he says was a “crisis” situation.

But he says he thinks city officials did well, far better than the “F” grade some people would want to give them. Daley thinks the fact that no one died on Lake Shore Drive Tuesday or early Wednesday is a plus.

I agree with him (for once). But what amused me the most was the flippant tone he had in his voice Thursday when he acknowledged that some people were going to blame him, and the city, no matter what happened.

“SURE THEY CAN blame me,” he quipped. “That’s life.”

So what should we think of this situation? I suspect for many people, Wednesday (and Thursday) will go down as a couple of days they got off from work. In my case, because I do some work from home and never lost electricity, my telephone or Internet connection, I still earned money.

But I also had quite a bit of free time during the day Wednesday that I was trapped inside. It was the day I had enough time to watch an entire season of “The Sopranos” on DVD (the death of actor David Proval’s “Richie Aprile” character still manages to catch me off-guard, no matter how many times I see it).

Be honest. There were many more Chicagoans in my situation than there were those who were stuck on Lake Shore Drive.


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